Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Hopefully you read my
earlier posts
about this first ever outdoor art fair held in downtown Yokohama at the end of October. I had a long chat with
David Bigelow one of the U.S. artists who participated in the event and also photographer
Larry Oliverson. When Midori Ueda-Okahana returned to her country after visiting the Ann Arbor Art Fairs determined to hold an art fair she approached the City of Yokohama because in Japan Yokohama has declared itself to be a fine arts city. Yokohama was celebrating its 150th anniversary and the fair was held on the amazingly restored waterfront. The city was very clean and safe. There had been excellent PR and good attendance. The waterfront in Yokohama is where Commodore Perry opened the doors to the West. It has classically been considered the place where East meets West, therefore a natural place for the American and Japanese artists to meet one another. David Bigelow with customers in Yokohama. Japanese artists have only had access to galleries to exhibit their work and the outdoor experience where they could meet collectors face to face was revolutionary. They don't have the opportunity to represent themselves. David told me about one artist who had assemblages who couldn't even figure out how to price his work. Finally on the third day of a four day show he came up with a price. There were twelve U.S. artists and twenty-four Japanese artists. One of the things David had been concerned about ahead of time was how to get his credit card machine to work over there. He needn't have worried. All sales were in cash! He made his largest sale ever, 90,000! (yen, that is). Larry told me that although the event was not well-attended by U.S. standards, what he really appreciated was the high percentage of buyers to the ratio of viewers, with many transactions taking place. "Probably the highest ratio ever!." Larry gave a presentation to an audience of City of Yokohama officials, sponsors and artists about the art fair business in the U.S. The Japanese are very cautious people and discussion does not take place at a presentation usually. But questions were actually asked and an interchange took place, to the Japanese artists surprise. Japan has a great history of printmaking and David, being a printmaker, had hoped to see some good collections. But he says because so much of Japan is made of paper (think shoji screen construction) the cities would burn and many historical objects do not survive. Surprisingly one of the best places to see the famous 19th century prints is in Boston, where a man named Bigelow has a wonderful collection. Would they go back? "In a minute," said David. "In a heartbeat," said Larry.
Why did they go? David said, "There was just so much interesting stuff going on I thought it would be a shame not to go." Did you intend to make good sales? "As I thought about going I rationalized that if we made any money it would be a surprise." Larry spent three weeks in Japan, including the week in Yokohama. Expect new images the next time you encounter him at an art fair. Photograph by Larry Oliverson Finally I asked the question, was this trip sponsored or did it all come out of their pockets? It seems there was a sort of a "street jury" at Ann Arbor and several artists were invited by the organizers from Japan. Not everyone accepted the invitation. The invitation included a round trip ticket and shipping of the art from Chicago to Japan. I found out that a few other people I knew were in the group, Michigan glass artist Vince Pernicano and printmaker Mathias Muleme from Ontario. Read another story about Ann Arbor meeting Yokohama at

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Comment by Nels Johnson on December 1, 2009 at 12:26pm
Jeez! Didn't they at least serve some premium sake. talked to Carol Swayze who exhibited. She said results were "underwhelming." Me thinks it is a long schelp for so little yen--and no tequila--how "Un-American."


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